Dan Robson, Richard Wigglesworth, Willi Heinz, Jack Maunder, Ben Spencer. Just who is England's third choice scrum-half? Two years in, Eddie Jones is yet to settle on his back up nine should Care or Youngs suffer an injury.
Despite stating the requirement of three world class players in each position, England head coach Eddie Jones is yet to pick a regular third choice scrum-half at the halfway point in his preparation for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. There are plenty of positions Jones finds himself blessed with an abundance of options, the log jam in the second row for example. However, a handful of squad positions are yet to be filled, the most glaring of which is the depth at half-back.
Leicester Tigers' Ben Youngs and Harlequins' Danny Care have formed a formidable pairing since former Australian head coach Jones took the reigns from Stuart Lancaster following the 2015 home World Cup failure. The two 70+ capped nines have done the business for England over the last two years, but should the national side suffer injuries to either or both, there is a severe lack of a clear pecking order for replacements.
Richard Wigglesworth and Jack Maunder are the only other two men to have been named in a match day 23, both from the bench. Three other men to have participated in an England camp are Wasps' 25-year-old Dan Robson, Gloucester's 31-year-old New Zealand born Willi Heinz and Saracens 25-year-old Ben Spencer. Qualifying for England via an English grandmother, the former Canterbury and Crusaders' man Heinz racked up over 100 appearances for the two sides since 2009 alongside All Black great Dan Carter. It was Robson's departure from Gloucester to Wasps that opened the door for Heinz to travel to England. In no particular order we delve a little deeper into these mens skillsets and chances for 2019.
Wigglesworth, the most experience of our four candidates, has been capped 27 times since 2008. The Saracens' half-back is well known for having the best kicking game in the Premiership, while offering excellent game management. Wigglesworth's lack of speed and threat ball-in-hand may well be the reason for his solitary cap under Jones. One of the reasons Youngs has started for England has been his match control and kicking game, but with his added ability to spot an attacking opportunity for himself or his teammates he tops the list of scrum-halves available to Jones.
Should England lose Youngs to injury and require another game manager with a superior kicking game, Wigglesworth will be the strongest contender. While it's not obvious whether or not he is the next man in line or further back in the queue as it stands, being the most experienced option could leave Jones to believe Wigglesworth would be able to step into the England fold and do a job, which may also explain the exclusion of a third choice nine so far.
On the other end of the spectrum to Wigglesworth is the young Jack Maunder. At just 20 years old, Maunder was somewhat of a surprise arrival on the international scene. After an injury crisis for Exeter Chiefs last season, the likes of youngsters Maunder and Stu Townsend had to step up into the senior team and Chiefs eventual Premiership winning campaign. Jones took a shine to Maunder's form, naming him on the bench for both of England's summer tests in Argentina. Seen more as a project for the future, Maunder has an all round game, with the expected attacking intent of a young man fresh out of the academy. It would come as a surprise if Maunder was taken to the 2019 World Cup, as he is currently behind both Will Chudley and former Wallaby Nic White in the Exeter ranks.
Heinz may have only attended a training camp in lieu of Premiership play-off absentees last May, but has just as much of a chance as the other contenders given their lack of time with England. With a keen eye for an attacking opportunity and the maturity to manage a game, Heinz is probably the most complete all rounder of the group. As with Wigglesworth, due to Heinz experience as a 31-year-old, you could understand if Heinz was firmly in Jones' mind as the next man in, confident enough in seeing his abilities from afar to believe he could step in to the squad with minimal adjustment required.
Last and nowhere near least is Wasps' Dan Robson, easily the most popular option with fans. Robson is quite arguably the most attacking option. He continues to exhibit his ability to create and score throughout the Premiership as he did for the England Saxons' two match series against South Africa A the Summer before last. Robson's attacking flare has caused fans from not only Wasps, but every English side to question his persistent exclusion from England. With Wigglesworth being the most appropriate replacement for Youngs, Robson would be the best like-for-like replacement/back-up for Care. With Eddie Jones' confessed ambition to improve England's attacking game after solidifying the set piece and defence, Robson could easily be seen as the obvious choice to score more tries.
Ben Spencer falls into an interesting category, he is neither first choice at his club or capped by England. He was included in an England camp under Jones for the first time in October and is not dissimilar to Ben Youngs, although offers up the extra ability to kick for sticks. Spencer has bided his time at Saracens under the likes of Wigglesworth and the recently retired Neil de Kock, turning down offers from Premiership rival Sale Sharks. While his territorial kicking game may not be at the same level as Wigglesworth's, he does have a similar knack for an attacking oppourtunity to Youngs. Spencer will enjoy a run of starts for Sarries while Wigglesworth is out injured and will have to prove his quality and consistency against tough competition. While he may seem to be around the bottom of the list available to Eddie Jones at the moment, he could easily climb the ladder this season.
So who makes the cut? vote below with who you think should be taken to Japan in 2019 and share so we can see what everyone really thinks!